One of the many, many phrases social media has birthed as it’s skulked into everyday life with the steadfast determination of a bed bug on the London Underground, is ‘bumper sticker logic’.
Meaning an argument that makes sense at first glance, but doesn’t hold up under any real scrutiny, the quip gained further prominence within our lexicon against the backdrop of Donald Trump‘s soundbite-centric presidential campaigns.
So ironically, given Formula 1 cars are in the small percentage of motor vehicles without any form of bumper, it’s the perfect way to describe rumours linking Fernando Alonso to either Red Bull or an early retirement at the end of 2023.
The Ricciardo problem
On paper, it seems so obvious you wonder why no one thought of it before. A team in need of a proven competitor to join its all-conquering lead driver who has demolished every teammate laid before him, and a fallen champion who has not tasted victory in a decade but will do anything for one last shot at glory.
But it’s also paper that first casts doubt on the legitimacy of those rumours: both Alonso and the Red Bull seat he’d supposedly fill are already contracted for 2024.
That’s what MARCA’s Antonio Lobato told the ‘A Diario’ podcast after the 2023 Mexico City Grand Prix where Alonso failed to finish for the second race in a row – just the second time he’s recorded back-to-back DNFs since his ill-fated McLaren days.
“The social media monster sometimes gets out of hand, you have to be careful with the phrases you say,” Lobato said. “To say something like that is looking for repercussions, but it doesn’t make sense. We recently made a joke on TV: ‘how nice it would be to put the two best drivers together in the same team’.
“But it was said as an idea, as a dream, because there is not much chance of that happening. Red Bull insists that Perez continues next year because he has a contract until 2024.
“The only option for Checo not to be there would be to bring in Daniel Ricciardo. With Fernando there is nothing, his entourage tells me that they are even worried because it could generate tension with Aston Martin.”
The question conveniently ignored by the ‘Why Red Bull should want Alonso‘ consensus is ‘why wouldn’t they want Ricciardo?’.
It’s easy to forget that the 2023 Mexico City GP was just Ricciardo‘s fourth race in over 11 months and the Australian continues prove he’s a different driver than the one that flamed out more spectacularly at McLaren than their ‘GP2 engine’.
Would Red Bull even want Alonso?
Alongside Red Bull possessing a ready-made replacement for Perez should they decide his future at the team is untenable, there’s plenty of reasons why Alonso might not fit the bill.
In Mexico City, Red Bull drivers and staff grew visibly frustrated with the media when asked about the rivalry between Perez and Verstappen, while in 2022 the Dutchman launched an extraordinary, expletive-driven tirade against the press.
With his world championship already sewn up and Perez fighting for second, Verstappen refused to move aside for his teammate at the 2022 Brazilian GP, fuelling rumours that it was payback for the Mexican deliberately crashing in qualifying for the Monaco GP.
“I’m just a bit fed up with all this bulls**t,” Verstappen told the press ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“You don’t even have the facts, you don’t know the real story so you don’t need to write a story. After that race of course I looked very bad in the media, but they didn’t have the clear picture.
“It’s pretty sickening, at the end of the day, I haven’t even done anything wrong it’s just people misunderstood what was actually going on.”
Verstappen never actually explained what was going on – which if anything added more credence to the Monaco revenge theory – but the fact remained: he was rattled at the slightest hint of intra-team fighting.
Now extrapolate that onto the circus that Alonso would inevitably bring to Red Bull. While even he would struggle to compete with Verstappen for the world championship over 24 races, he still possesses the pace and the needle to rile the Dutchman.
Why would Red Bull sign themselves up for that?
Alonso retirement equally unlikely
While Alonso is no doubt unhappy with the turn Aston Martin‘s season has taken, it’s not completed unexpected.
Don’t just take our word for it – take Alonso‘s. He stressed as early as the season-opening 2023 Bahrain GP that he was surprised with how competitive the team was, and after the summer break he insisted he wasn’t expecting a repeat of their six podiums from the first 12 races of the season.
“I will not be disappointed, it is more difficult now,” Alonso told the media ahead of the Dutch GP. “I think there is more competition up there, it’s going to be difficult to get another six in the second half, I will be happy with two or three.
“It was unexpected how competitive the team was, from the first race we found ourselves in a very strong position so we maximised every opportunity in the first few races.”
Though it is a surprise how far Aston Martin have fallen – with Q2 appearances now hailed as positives – 2023 remains a very successful season for the team.
The brains trust and state-of-the-art factory that Alonso signed up to for at least 2024 remains, and the AMR23 proves they can deliver a competitive car.
They’ve already given Alonso a fitting swansong after the years in the wilderness at Alpine and McLaren, and the best should be yet to come.
Just as long as both sides can see past the bumper sticker.